All-32: NFL Power Rankings Heading Into Week 6
While we unofficially hit the quarter mark of the season last week, all teams are at least there now, as the final two teams -- the ones with Week 4 byes -- played their fourth game of the season in Week 5.
There are still at least 11 games left for these teams, but we're starting to get a much clearer picture of which teams are good which aren't. Some of them are surprises, like the 1-4 Carolina Panthers, who have an 11.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, per our numbers. But some aren't, like the 4-1 New England Patriots, who got Tom Brady back this past weekend.
What we can look at now is who these teams really are this season, as the numbers below come from 2016 performance and no longer factor in what these teams were projected to do at the start of the year.
A weekly reminder, our power rankings aren’t subjective, they’re based off our nERD scores put together by people much smarter than me. For those unfamiliar, nERD is our calculation of how good a team really is, based on expected point differential against a league average team. If the team's nERD rating is 10, they would be expected to win by 10 points against a league-average opponent. All individually noted rankings are based off our Net Expected Points metric, which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to perform, according to historical data.
Each week, we’ll list all 32 teams from worst to best with a more detailed breakdown of four different teams. The highlighted teams will rotate each week, which will lead to each team being featured two to three times during the course of the season.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (nERD: -6.89, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 32)
31. Miami Dolphins (nERD: -6.65, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 25)
Week 5 started on an ominous note for the Miami Dolphins when Laremy Tunsil slipped in the shower, hurt his ankle, and was inactive for the game against the Tennessee Titans. To fill in, Billy Turner started at left tackle, while Dallas Thomas started at left guard. Both Turner and Thomas were released by the Dolphins on Tuesday, if that gives any indication of how Sunday went.
If there’s one positive to take away from the Dolphins this season under Adam Gase, it’s how quickly they’ll move on when something isn’t working. The first example was when offseason trade acquisition cornerback Byron Maxwell was benched before the Week 4 Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals after struggling through the first three weeks. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, there might be too many problems to quickly move on from on both sides of the ball.
Miami currently ranks 20th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, thanks mostly to a 22nd rank against the pass. The defensive line has been able to create pressure, but it hasn’t resulted in sacks. The Dolphins are just 18th in sack rate despite creating the 6th-highest rate of pressure in the league per Football Outsiders.
When quarterbacks are able to get the ball out against the Dolphins, they have found a lot of success. Miami is allowing the 11th-highest yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks, and they’re not creating any turnovers off those pass attempts, with the second-lowest interceptions rate in the league at 0.6 percent.
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill has the second-highest interception rate among full-time starters at 4.5 percent. Tannehill was under constant pressure against the Titans, but only one of his two interceptions was forced by a pass rush. Tannehill has struggled this season and ranks 37th in Passing NEP per drop back among 43 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 25 times.
At 1-4 and with just a 1.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, this season has already become a test to find out which talent meshes with Gase’s philosophy going forward. He wants 16 games to see if the quarterback fits, but he’s already shown those that don’t fit won’t be kept around for very long.
30. Cleveland Browns (nERD: -6.17, Record: 0-5, Last Week: 28)
29. Chicago Bears (nERD: -5.25, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 30)
28. Indianapolis Colts (nERD: -5.05, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 27)
27. Los Angeles Rams (nERD: -4.91, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 23)
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nERD: -4.34, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 24)
25. San Francisco 49ers (nERD: -3.53, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 29)
24. Detroit Lions (nERD: -3.42, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 31)
23. New York Giants (nERD: -2.68, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 21)
Three weeks ago, the New York Giants were 2-0 and looked to be one of the better teams in the NFC. Three consecutive losses later, and the Giants are in the basement of the NFC East with some serious flaws.
The most concerning unit right now is the offense, which was expected to be one of the league’s best with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. Instead, the Giants' offense is 20th in Adjusted NEP per play and the passing offense wasn’t able to get anything going against a Green Bay Packers secondary that is 24th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. While Manning hasn’t been great throwing the ball, a lot of the struggles have stemmed from the offensive line.
Over the past two games, Manning appears to have lost faith in his line. He’s either under pressure or expecting to be and it’s led to him ranking 26th in Passing NEP per drop back. At 4.6 percent, Manning’s sack rate is just below his 4.7 percent career mark, but the troubles of the offensive line have rushed some of Manning throws in the past two games.
Even with these struggles, there’s still some promise in this offense. Manning’s current 7.4 yards per attempt is higher than his past two seasons when the passing offense was clicking under Ben McAdoo. The biggest problem remains ending drives in touchdowns. The Giants are 10th in yards per drive, but just 22nd in points per drive. The offense is too talented for that discrepancy to continue.
There’s also a process to production problem on the other side of the ball with the pass rush. The Giants spent a lot of money in the offseason to build a defensive line, but against the pass, there just hasn’t been results. The ends are creating pressure, but they’re not turning into sacks. At 1.9 percent, the Giants have the lowest sack rate in the league with the next worst team, the Kansas City Chiefs, at 3.4 percent. The Giants are 19th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play despite getting everything they ever could have wanted from cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has been one of the league’s best corners by yards allowed per target and has New York’s only two interceptions on the season.
22. New York Jets (nERD: -2.52, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 20)
21. New Orleans Saints (nERD: -2.39, Record: 1-3, Last Week: 22)
20. Tennessee Titans (nERD: -1.83, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 26)
19. Oakland Raiders (nERD: -0.71, Record: 4-1, Last Week: 18)
18. Washington Redskins (nERD: -0.67, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 19)
It’s been a different year but a similar story for Washington in 2016.
Kirk Cousins has been just good enough on occasion, but not as good as one would expect with the supporting cast around him. Cousins currently sits 16th in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks, but he has left a number of big plays on the field. He missed a long play to Pierre Garcon in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, and he's missed multiple open receivers over the first few weeks of the season.
He also hasn’t progressed much in reading defenses, and that can turn into ugly interceptions like it did on Sunday. Cousins never saw C.J. Mosley sitting in the middle of the field, and the linebacker had an easy interception. The mistake could have flipped the game in Baltimore’s favor, but Mosely fumbled the ball out of the end zone during his return, which resulted in a touchback for Washington and a 17-yard gain from the original spot of the play.
Washington also hasn’t gotten much help on the ground from its running backs. Matt Jones is 18th in Rushing NEP per attempt among the 25 backs with 50 or more carries this season even though he has the seventh-highest Success Rate. Chris Thompson has only 17 carries on the year, but there’s nearly a full point difference per rush between Thompson’s Rushing NEP per attempt (0.057) and Jones’s (-0.055).
The defense also hasn’t lived up to expectations yet this season. After bringing in Josh Norman, Washington’s pass defense is 28th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. They’re 16th in yards per attempt allowed, but they’ve allowed the fourth-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. Washington has let up a little on keeping Norman on just one side of the defense, which allowed offenses to pick on the other side. It didn’t help that Bashaud Breeland, who had been picked on, has missed the past two games with an ankle injury.
17. San Diego Chargers (nERD: -0.44, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 17)
16. Kansas City Chiefs (nERD: 0.42, Record: 2-2, Last Week: 15)
15. Baltimore Ravens (nERD: 0.44, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 14)
14. Houston Texans (nERD: 0.49, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 13)
13. Carolina Panthers (nERD: 1.22, Record: 1-4, Last Week: 9)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (nERD: 1.26, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 11)
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were a surprise because of how well they performed before an injury to Andy Dalton slowed them down. Now, the Bengals are back closer to their prior performance, and it feels like a massive disappointment.
Part of that stems from Cincinnati’s inability to replace what was on the roster last season. Last year, there was a ton of talent around Dalton and A.J. Green, but it's been a lot of Green and little else in 2016.
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency last season and were replaced by Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. Jones leads the league in receiving yards for the Detroit Lions, and Sanu has become a useful secondary piece in Atlanta with Julio Jones and the running backs. LaFell has been OK as the secondary receiver in Cincinnati -- he ranks 36th in Reception NEP per target among 93 wide receivers with at least 15 targets on the season -- but Boyd has yet to be a productive piece of the offense. Among those 93 receivers, Boyd is 88th in Reception NEP per target.
With all the weapons lost, Dalton has not had as easy of a time advancing the ball through the air. Last season, Dalton led the league in Passing NEP per drop back, but he now ranks 20th through the first five weeks of the season. He’s also been under pressure significantly more than last season. The Bengals allowed pressure at the sixth-lowest rate last season. This year, that’s gone to 16th. The problem there is the added pressure is also turning into sacks more often as Dalton has the fourth highest sack rate among quarterbacks.
There’s some hope the passing offense will improve with the return of Tyler Eifert to the lineup. The tight end experienced a setback in practice last week before he was set to play this past Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. If Eifert returns in Week 6, he’ll be a welcome addition to a red zone offense that has been struggling. Dalton has just three passing touchdowns inside the 20, which is tied for the least among the 17 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 20 passes in the red zone. Last season, Eifert had 11 touchdowns inside the 20, which was second most in the league behind Allen Robinson, who had 12.
11. Dallas Cowboys (nERD: 2.08, Record: 4-1, Last Week: 16)
10. Buffalo Bills (nERD: 3.33, Record: 3-2, Last Week: 10)
9. Atlanta Falcons (nERD: 3.76, Record: 4-1, Last Week: 12)
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (nERD: 3.92, Record: 4-1, Last Week: t-5)
7. Arizona Cardinals (nERD: 4.02, Record: 2-3, Last Week: 4)
6. Green Bay Packers (nERD: 4.24, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 8)
5. Seattle Seahawks (nERD: 4.83, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 3)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (nERD: 5.12, Record: 3-1, Last Week: 2)
3. New England Patriots (nERD: 5.66, Record: 4-1, Last Week: t-5)
2. Minnesota Vikings (nERD: 5.96, Record: 5-0, Last Week: 7)
There might not be a scarier team this season than the Minnesota Vikings. We always knew the defense had the potential to be great -- it currently ranks fourth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play -- but with an offense clicking, the team has a chance to be an all-around success. As it stands right now, the Vikings are the last undefeated team in the league at 5-0 and, at 93.7 percent, they have the league’s best odds of making the playoffs.
On defense, the Vikings have been dominant against both the run and the pass. Both stem from the defensive line, which is full of playmakers and depth. Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and Danielle Hunter have all become serious threats off the edge while Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson have been disruptors in the interior. Sharrif Floyd will also add to that once he returns to health after missing the past four games due to a knee surgery. He’s expected to miss six weeks in total. Minnesota is fifth in pressure rate on defense and much of that has contributed to sacks as the Vikings are seventh in sack rate.
It also helps that behind that line is a back seven that has been spectacular in coverage this season. The Vikings are allowing the second-lowest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks and have the fifth-highest interception rate among defenses.
The offense, though, is really the surprising key in Minnesota’s hot start. The Vikings are 11th in Adjusted NEP per play, and that’s due to the third best passing game in the league. Sam Bradford is currently fifth in Passing NEP per drop-back among quarterbacks. Bradford’s shown more promise in his four starts with the Vikings than he had in the previous five years of his career. He’s navigating the pocket, hitting tight windows, and he’s done this with very little running game support.
If there’s a weakness on this team, it is the running game. Even when Adrian Peterson was healthy, the Vikings were struggling to run the ball, but it’s been worse in Peterson’s absence. Through five weeks, Minnesota is 30th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. However, that has allowed offensive coordinator Norv Turner to be a little more creative in his play calling instead of relying on the run game like he had with a healthy Peterson last season. This has led to things like Cordarrelle Patterson becoming a legitimate offensive weapon over the past few games, though for the season, he still has a ineffective 0.59 Reception NEP per target.
There’s a lot to like about this Vikings team heading into their Week 6 bye. And now, when they come back, a Week 7 game against the Eagles might become one of the most interesting games of the season.
1. Denver Broncos (nERD: 6.91, Record: 4-1, Last Week: 1)